Remember when the mid-morning weekday doorbell meant one of two things – Jehovah’s Witnesses looking to save your soul; or charity collectors with rattling tins. Online shopping has changed everything. Now the doorbell could signal a much-awaited dress, a critical replacement phone charger, or even better, a box of new plants.
My first Sydney garden aimed to be this kind of thing:
a romantic and flowery affair. This is Ruth Irving’s lovely Al-Ru Farm in the Adelaide Hills. Mine was a tiny version, snuck into the sunny back of a terrace. Filling it with roses and foxgloves and catmint and achillea and endlessly fainting lady’s mantle, required journeys out to the nurseries at Dural. Drive and buy on Saturday, plant and admire on Sunday. If I were making such a garden now, I’d do all my buying online. That’s because the perennials that make what was then a cottage garden, and is now a modern flower garden (inspired by international designers like Piet Oudolf, and locals like Melbourne’s Ian Barker) are perfect plant material to send mail order.
Best known of the perennial online nurseries is Lambley, outside Ballarat. Its owner David Glen is a renowned plantsman and inspiring gardener. Don’t miss an opportunity to visit if you are nearby. This is his Dry Garden in spring, watered just a few times a year and always stunning.
Closer to home are Perennialle Plants in Canowindra and Nutshell Nursery at Wallendbeen, between Cootamundra and Harden. All three specialise in drought-hardy perennials that cope with a freezing-to-boiling range of conditions. But if you’re the kind of gardener who easily falls for inappropriate plant material, your best bet might be Yellow House Nursery in Nowra on the South Coast, where the weather is mild in winter and humid in summer, just like Sydney. Owner Mim Burkett ran a nursery in Glenorie back in the ‘80s – on tank water, in the drought. It was awful. “I swore I was never doing that again, but then bushfire burned us out, we moved to Nowra, started gardening again and a decade or so later, opened the garden for Open Gardens Australia. I thought I’d just pot up a few plants to sell on the day…”
The nursery has been online for just on a year, mailing out about 150 plants a week. Burkett loves the email interaction with customers, which has her dreaming of their gardens as she packs their plants. Her plant list focuses on old-fashioned perennials, “the sort of things that endure, and which flowered year after year when people had no water and no fertilisers.” Things like penstemons, which she loves for their plentiful bell flowers, salvias, and hardy little artmesias, which offer the silver-grey tones that can be hard to come by in Sydney’s humid conditions.
Not sure about the thrill of plants in the post? Both Yellow House and Perenialle will be exhibiting at Australian Garden Show Sydney, in Centennial Park from September 4-7. Burkett plans to bring “some rosemary, I have about 20, pinks and whites, and different fragrances; and salvias; and species geraniums; rudbeckias, oh, lots of lovely things.”
For those interested, the picture at the top of this post is Old Wesleydale, Scott and Deb Wilson’s garden in Mole Creek, Tasmania. We’ll visit on my Tastings: Tasmania tour in November. Want to join me?